North Carolina State University is leading a national nanotechnology research effort funded by NSF for a new NSF Engineering Research Center. The goal is to do research to create self-powered devices to help people monitor their health. The NSF “Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies” (ASSIST) is funded by an initial five-year $18.5 million NSF grant with the research to be headquartered on NC State’s campus.
The research effort is between NC State and partner institutions such as Florida International University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Virginia, plus affiliated universities such as the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina. In addition, about 30 industry domestic partners will participate plus foreign partners such as the University of Adelaide, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology.
ASSIST researchers will use the tiniest materials to develop the self-powered devices. These devices can be worn on the chest like a patch, on the wrist like a watch, or as a cap that fits over a tooth, or in other ways depending on the biological system being monitored.
Wireless health monitoring is already a fast-growing industry, but the self-powered technology being developed will mean that changing and recharging batteries on current devices could soon be thing of the past.
By using nanomaterials and nano structures and thermoelectric and piezoelectric materials that use body heat and motion, respectively as power sources, the researchers contemplate making devices that can operate on very small amounts of energy.
These devices could transform healthcare by improving the way doctors, patients, and researchers gather and interpret important health data. Patients could be better managed with uninterrupted streams of heart rate readings, respiration rates, and other health indicators, as well as personalized exposure data for environmental pollution. In addition, the data obtained from research studies can be used by lawmakers to craft environmental policy. Researchers will create new piezoelectric materials and energy-efficient transistors.
The team from the University of Virginia will develop ways to make the systems work on very small amounts of power, while the group from Florida International University will create sensors that gather biochemical signals from the body such as stress levels
The results of that work, coupled with low-power radios developed by the University of Michigan will be used to process and transmit health data gathered by the sensors that will go to computers and consumer devices. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will provide ASSIST with medical guidance and arrange for the testing of the technology.
ASSIST will also draw on the expertise of 30 industry partners to help guide the center’s work to enter the marketplace. These industry partners both large and small include companies and agencies involved in nanomaterials and nanodevices, integrated chip manufacturing, software development, bioengineering, and healthcare. The Center will also interact closely with complementary research centers and organizations specializing in technology transfer to stimulate innovation based on the research.